Five days before Hidilyn Diaz made history by winning the first Olympic gold medal for the Philippines, she acknowledged #TeamHD with an Instagram post. It featured snaps of the 30-year old’s posse—well, more like support group, her training team in Tokyo who no doubt contributed significantly to her victory.
Team HD includes Coach Jeaneth Aro, her nutritionist; sports psychologist Dr. Karen Trinidad; weightlifting coach Kaiwen Gao; and her strength and conditioning coach Julius Naranjo who is also assistant to Coach Gao and, as the public might already know, is also Hidilyn’s boyfriend.
“What drives me is Team HD because really I won’t survive this pandemic without them. It’s been like a rollercoaster ride,” she told the site Tie Breaker Times in early July. She knew the importance of a reliable team behind her “kasi nga kung gagawin kong lahat baka maubos time ko sa kaka- research kung paano mag progress sa sport na ito.”
Diaz started training under the Chinese Gao just before her triumph at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta. Gao has been Head Coach of the China National Army Team (Women) since 1980, and has trained two Olympic gold medalists: Zhou Lulu in 2012 and Chen Xiexia in 2008. Hidilyn told Barron’s/AFP News th
After enlisting the services of Gao, in came Filipino-Japanese weightlifter Julius Naranjo who Diaz met in an international tilt in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan in 2017. The first time he saw her compete, Hidilyn had already made a strong impression on the Guamanian. “I was inspired to see her willpower, her way of really fighting towards the top, working hard, it’s such an inspiration,” Julius told Sports-U two years ago.
The guy has been focused on helping Hidilyn get to her goal of winning the Olympic gold ever since joining Team HD—to the point of putting his own weightlifting career aside temporarily. She calls him a perfectionist. “Yung pag analyze niya sa kalaban, nakikita na niya yung probability, yung magiging scenario, pag dating sa laro so may mga strategy na siya,” Hidilyn says in the Tie Breaker Times video.
According to Philippine Star, weightlifting analyst and founder of Weightlifting House magazine Seb Ostrowicz was so impressed with Hidilyn’s shape and performance, even commenting that not only did the Filipina “outlift” her closest Chinese competitor, her coaches outcoached the Chinese as well.
Naranjo and Gao have been training Hidilyn in Malaysia for more than a year now. The Filipina athlete needed to train away from the Philippines to lessen the distractions that being close to friends and family offer. In Malaysia, they lived near the city of Malacca which was three hours away from Kuala Lumpur, the capital.
There were a lot of challenges Hidilyn needed to face in the last year or so, and one of those is keeping a healthy mind amid the pandemic. She was missing her family and there were the social media bashers to contend with. She previously spoke about dealing with overthinking, which she says was her biggest enemy. That’s why every week, she goes online to talk to sports psychologist Dr. Karen Trinidad who is also the Philippine team psychologist for the Tokyo Olympics.
In the Olympic village in Japan, the feeling of loneliness and isolation can get pretty intense especially because of Covid restrictions. In an interview with Radyo Pilipinas, Dr. Trinidad said she advises athletes to keep a picture of their goals—sportsmen and women being naturally visual—so that they’re continuously reminded why they need to keep doing what they do despite the odds. The psychologist also guides the athletes how to talk to themselves and how to psych themselves up for the competition.
Before Tokyo, Hidilyn would write down her thoughts and frustrations, on top of doing her Sunday yoga practice. “Minsan nilalabas ko sa pagpapaganda,” she admitted to Ces Drilon in May on the latter’s talk show over Kumu. “Magpaganda na lang ako, para ma-divert ’yong attention. Nagme-makeup ako. ’Tapos minsan bumabalik lang ako sa kung bakit ko ‘to ginagawa.”
To hear sports nutritionist Coach Jeaneth Aro say it, Team HD needed to be on the same page, working on the same goal in Tokyo. “As we were travelling to the weightlifting competition venue yesterday afternoon, every member of Team HD began with the end in mind,” Coach Jeaneth wrote on her Facebook status after Hidilyn’s triumph. “And that end is not the expectation of winning the gold medal but rather of complete surrender to God.” No wonder Hidilyn kept saying “Thank you Lord, thank you Lord” after her triumphant lift.
“We acknowledged the hard work that every member of Team HD has put in but we also completely understood that none of the technic and skills training, the strength and conditioning training, the mental skills training and weight cut/recovery nutrition strategies,” says the nutritionist, “will ever compare to the all sustaining power of the Almighty God!”
Now we know that, not counting Hidilyn, there’s a fifth member in Team HD.